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posted: 6/9/2012 5:44 PM

Food giveaway fills a need with the hungry

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  • The American Heroic Foundation and Hands of Hope Illinois gave away some 80,000 pounds of food to the needy outside West Chicago Community High School Saturday. About 500 people took advantage of the food giveaway.

       The American Heroic Foundation and Hands of Hope Illinois gave away some 80,000 pounds of food to the needy outside West Chicago Community High School Saturday. About 500 people took advantage of the food giveaway.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Matt Szot, 12, of Winfield unloads bags of frozen pork during the "Rescue the Food" giveaway outside West Chicago Community High School Saturday. Volunteers gave away some 80,000 pounds of food to about 500 people.

       Matt Szot, 12, of Winfield unloads bags of frozen pork during the "Rescue the Food" giveaway outside West Chicago Community High School Saturday. Volunteers gave away some 80,000 pounds of food to about 500 people.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Bill Bautista of Bloomingdale hands a bag full of cheese slices to Jose Jurado of West Chicago during a "Rescue the Food" event outside West Chicago Community High School Saturday. Volunteers gave away some 80,000 pounds of food to about 500 people.

       Bill Bautista of Bloomingdale hands a bag full of cheese slices to Jose Jurado of West Chicago during a "Rescue the Food" event outside West Chicago Community High School Saturday. Volunteers gave away some 80,000 pounds of food to about 500 people.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
 

The cars were lined up well before 10:30 a.m. Saturday in a parking lot across from West Chicago Community High School. People without vehicles stood in line.

Meanwhile, some 20 volunteers were unloading hundreds of boxes of food from two large semitrailers filled with canned goods, bread, juice, milk, cheese, frozen meat and cereal.

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One of the volunteers, Linda Bender-Laleian, stepped back to look at those eagerly waiting.

"That's sad. That makes me wanna cry," she said.

So it's about people helping people, she says, that can turn tears into smiles.

"You smile at one person and maybe they'll smile at another. Maybe it'll become contagious. With the way things are today, you have to."

Bender-Laleian is an organizer with Schaumburg-based American Heroic Foundation, a newly established nonprofit that partnered with Hands of Hope of Illinois, a Joliet-based Christian organization, for Saturday's "Rescue the Food" giveaway. It's the second such event the two groups have hosted together, following one in March in South Elgin.

"Anybody can be a hero. It's just a matter of people recognizing the situation, stepping up and helping out," Bender-Laleian said.

As much as 80,000 pounds of food is given out at each event with a total of 500 boxes. The "rescued" food is supplied by grocery stores like Trader Joe's and food distributors who can no longer sell it on store shelves. Some of the food is expired, but it's all edible and good to eat, said Woody Stiltner, the founder of Hands of Hope of Illinois.

Since the late 1990s, his group has been sending packages of food all around the world, including Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras. For the past year and a half, they've been holding monthly food giveaways locally.

Not only do they supply food, but each package also comes with a Bible -- or like on Saturday -- a Christian music CD.

"It's physical and spiritual," Stiltner said.

Among the hundreds who waited in line for food in West Chicago was Debbie Henning of Bartlett, a food pantry volunteer who says Saturday marked the first time she was on the receiving end.

"Everyone is in need of something, especially in this economy," she said.

Also there was Denise Hedberg of West Chicago, who says she raising three of her grandchildren.

"The last thing you want to worry about is having your kids go hungry," she said. "Then this was here. It's like a gift from God."

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